I remember playing during recess - we divided into two teams – I was, on the team representing George McGovern and Jerry’s team represented Richard Nixon – it was a game of “war” and to be honest I don’t really remember who ended up winning the game but I certainly remember who won the election.
It was a tumultuous time in the U.S. and in Madison, WI where I lived. In one week, I had seen ongoing riots that at one point shut down the University, the downtown and burned over 60 buildings. It was 1972 and I was only 10 years old at the time and it was the first time I went to polls with my mother. The polling place was at the Gompers (as in the labor leader) Middle School in the gymnasium and we were using the old machines – big grey behemoths that had small metal levers that were too high for me to reach and one large lever that you pulled to the side when you’re done voting which recorded your vote, cleared the smaller levers and opened the curtain all at once – way cool when you are 10. I was tall enough to pull the larger lever and couldn’t help thinking of the Wizard in the Wizard of Oz when Toto opens the curtain and exposes the Wizard. “We” had voted and there was no turning back – even then I had a sense of empowerment. It seemed so much more “civilized” than rioting in the streets and fighting on the playground.
My mother told me two things while we were in the booth that day;
- This is the least you can do for your country;
- It was people like your Uncle Buster who ensured your freedom to vote so never miss an opportunity to have your say.
My Uncle Buster, Charles Trauba, enlisted in the Marines during World War II by faking his father’s signature on his enlistment papers at the age of 16 – still a child. He was sent to the Pacific and fought in some of the bloodiest battles of the war. He was shot in the back and almost died. He survived the bullet but experienced pain, both mental and physical, for the rest of his life.
Today both my Uncle and my Mom have passed and every time I vote I do so in small part to honor their memories and honor all of those who have sacrificed so much more to ensure that we all have an equal voice in our democracy – it is after all the least I can do.